Sean Bairstow. Photo by Robert K. Scott
LOGAN, Utah — Coming out of the locker room after halftime, forward Brandon Horvath bobbed his head to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” as it boomed over the loudspeaker. He was in a great mood and for good reason. His team was up by 13 and he had 11 points.
With 3:04 left in the game, Horvath beckoned to the crowd as they chanted “up by 30.” Utah State extended their win streak to three in dramatic fashion by beating Air Force 73 to 46.
Horvath nearly recorded a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
“Brandon had an excellent game. I thought he scored in and around the basket. I thought he posted hard,” Head Coach Ryan Odom said. ”His passes out of the post were excellent… Brandon had a nice game.”
With the student section decked out in shirts the colors of their chairs — to celebrate Spectrum Magic night — guard Sean Bairstow gave them plenty of reasons to cheer. He slammed home two alley-oops and a monster two-handed jam with seven seconds left in the first half.
“We see it in practice all the time,” Odom said. “He can make some explosive plays. The alley-oop in transition… the pass to the corner at the end of the half and he just drives it and goes. He’s quick and he’s athletic and now he’s shooting the three… He’s a problem. I’m just glad he’s on our team.”
Bairstow finished with 15 points and a rebound in 26 minutes.
In addition to Horvath and Bairstow, Utah State’s entire offense was clicking. The squad shot 61.9% from the field and only missed one free throw on 15 attempts. Two other Aggies, forward Justin Bean and guard Steven Ashworth, scored in double digits.
“The balance is huge,” Odom said. “Tonight, a ton of contributors.”
Nearly every Aggie shot came off an assist. Out of 26 made shots, only six did not come off an assist. Utah State recorded 20 assists for the ninth time this season and are undefeated, with nine wins, when they have at least that many assists.
“I think it just speaks to our guys’ willingness to share it. The open guy is the go-to guy and they’re trying to search and find the best shot that they can get,” Odom said.
One of those assists came from guard Rylan Jones. He exited concussion protocol and returned to play for the first time since Jan. 18. Jones finished with five points, three rebounds and an assist.
“I was just happy to be out there,” Jones said. “It was a great feeling. It was like, hey I’m back out here, throwing passes and helping Sean (Bairstow) get a dunk and that’s all I ask for.”
Utah State’s performance on defense was just as good. The Aggies dominated the glass outrebounding the Falcons by 20. They also recorded three blocks including one sent into the student section by center Trevin Dorius.
The win in dominant fashion made up for some of the hard feelings after the Aggies’ loss to the Falcons earlier this season. Revenge was on Utah State’s mind coming into the game.
“We came in with a little bit of a sour taste in our mouths from last time when they beat us. So, we had a little extra motivation coming in. We just really locked in during the week on their sets and how they play and we just played way harder than we did the first time,” Horvath said.
Utah State’s game plan against the Falcons worked well as the game did not feel close after the Aggies took an 11 point lead with 5:44 left in the first half. Utah State’s ball movement was on point, creating 12 assists in the first half alone. Horvath led the Aggies on that front, collecting four in the first 20 minutes. At halftime, Utah State led 36 to 23.
“How we got the lead was really important to our team. Score stop; that’s how you get leads. You get multiple stops in a row, and then you get baskets on the other end,” Odom said.
The Aggies slowly added on to their lead at the beginning of the second half. Three-pointers from guards Steven Ashworth and RJ Eytle-Rock padded the lead to 19. Utah State then went quiet on offense for about four minutes. Frustration seemed to build as seven straight fouls were called on the Aggies without any on the Falcons. Four of those went on Dorius who later fouled out.
Utah State snapped out of the tough stretch with a 17-2 run starting with nine minutes left in the game. At the end of the run, Utah State’s lead ballooned to 30 with two minutes remaining and bench players checked in for the Aggies.
With the win, Utah State improves to 12-9 and 4-5 in conference play. The Aggies continue a busy stretch of games by hosting San Jose State on Thursday.
“Excited for the guys, but certainly, we’re not satisfied. There’s a lot of ball to be played. We’re excited about being able to play three home games in a week here, but we know it’s going to be challenging. Our clear focus now is to learn from this game. Things that we did well, things that we fell a little bit short on, and then begin to rest and prep for San Jose State, which will come in here on Thursday night,” Odom said.